FDA-Approved Drug for Boosting Sexual Desire in Women May Preserve Vision for People with Retinal Conditions

July 27, 2016

A Foundation-funded research team at Oregon Health & Science University’s Casey Eye Institute (OHSU) reports that flibanserin, a drug approved already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating low sexual desire in women, may also prevent or slow retinal degeneration and preserve vision. While much more research needs to be done to determine if the drug can safely and effectively treat inherited retinal diseases in humans, it did show promise in a lab study of mice. Results of the study were reported online in the journal Public Library of Science (PLOS) One.

Led by Mark Pennesi, M.D., Ph.D., the Casey Eye Institute study involved the injection of flibanserin into mice that were exposed to bright light to induce retinal damage. Researchers observed that the therapy protected the mouse retinas from degeneration and preserved retinal function.  An analysis of the mouse retinal tissue showed that the drug was turning on genes that express proteins known to reduce oxidative stress, which is damaging to cells, and improve health of mitochondria, which provide energy to all cells in the body. 

Dr. Pennesi says his team chose to study flibanserin as a potential therapy to save vision, because it had a similar chemical structure to other neuroprotective drugs that they were studying in the lab. That is, it might protect neural cells (e.g, retinal cells) from degeneration.

“Before we begin to think about a clinical trial, there’s a lot of more work that needs to be done to better understand flibanserin’s potential to slow inherited retinal degenerations,” says Dr. Pennesi. “Our next steps are to look at its efficacy in rodent models of retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration.”

“It is always a benefit to develop drugs that already have been FDA approved for other conditions,” says Stephen Rose, Ph.D., chief research officer, Foundation Fighting Blindness. “The regulatory approval means that there’s an existing body of knowledge about the drug, which can help us advance its development for another condition more quickly and effectively.”